This summer I visited Haida Gwaii. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, it is an archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia. Accessible only by boat or air, it can be a long trek to arrive there from the south. But its worth the trip.
Port Hardy to Prince Rupert is a 13 hour ferry ride through the Inside Passage ..passing by isolated lighthouse stations and small coastal communities. Prince Rupert to Skidegate is approximately 7 hours across the open Hecate Strait.
I was there during the celebrations to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Park, a collaboration between Parks Canada and the Haida Nation. Gwaii Haanas, on Moresby Island, is a 5000 sq km marine protected area – meaning it is protected from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the ocean. A legacy pole, the first one in over 100 years, was raised to commemorate this special anniversary. Parks Canada hosted a wonderful pot-latch, of speeches, dancing, and feasting…that lasted nearly 12 hours. It was wonderful to see a young red-coated RCMP officer participate in the Men’s Dance….when not that long ago, the RCMP had to shut down any native dancing, etc under the Pot-latch Law.
A wonderful feeling of openness was felt everywhere I went on Haida Gwaii. We were free to camp wherever we wanted…”sure you can camp on the beach”…said the Info Centre. Where I come from, there is not this same openness. Someone summed it up by saying, “they’re not trying to sell you anything….. they just want you to experience things for yourself.” How wonderful! One evening around the camp fire, I said “I’m homeless at the moment.” Alan a retiree from Ontario on the road the last 14 months said he was too; and then Kerry, a young woman biking solo from Nanaimo to the Yukon, added she was as well. Three out of four of us were homeless by choice.
I marveled at the incredibly beautiful carved jewelry I saw everywhere. The woman pumping gas must have been wearing at least $1000. worth of silver jewelry. She said, “oh this is just my everyday stuff”. Mostly it was carved by an uncle or father ….so many talented artists live there. A woman sitting next to me at the Queen Bee cafe in Queen Charlotte was wearing the most exquisitely carved gold necklace I’ve ever seen. When I commented on it, she said, “Oh it was carved by Bill Reid…he was my husband.” (Bill Reid’s Jade Canoe statue welcomes visitors at the Arrivals level of the Vancouver International Airport).
Haida Gwaii…. incredibly raw nature, wonderful freedom to enjoy it, world class artistic talent, strong traditional customs and beliefs … a wonderful place to experience.
(I will post a separate photo gallery from Haida Gwaii).